History of Japanese Art part 3

Welcome to the conclusion of our three-part “series” of blog posts about the history of art in Japan. If you missed them, you can read part one here and part two here. Without any further ado, let’s jump right in where we left off before.

Japanese Silk PaintingBy the 14th century, trading and interaction with China had only grown more frequent and important. At this time, Japanese painters were seeing some of the Chinese work, which was largely monochrome, and began to emulate this black-and-white style. Traditionally, Japanese art had been very colorful, so this was a marked departure. Also popular at this time were landscapes, particularly landscapes with the background being much, much further in the distance than the foreground or even the middle ground.


In following decades, the return to the traditional Japanese colorfulness of artwork showed itself in the bright screen paintings and wall decorations. It was common during the 16th and 17th centuries to have rooms totally enclosed by sliding screens which were all decorated with natural or fantastical scenes, all in color.

Japanese Colorful Screen PaintingFrom around 1600 to the middle of the 19th century, there were strict guidelines about outside cultural influence being allowed into Japan, as well as restricting limitations on the types of lives the Japanese people could lead. Artists struggled to create art which was both new, creative, and interesting, as well as approved by the government. Woodblock printing was one common way to create art. Practical items such as calendars and news were decorated with scenes from court life or the portraits of influential figures. Paintings most often depicted scenes from literature.


Despite the rulers’ best efforts, Western influence did make its way into Japan at this time, particularly the Impressionist movement. This inspired Japanese artists to create their own style of the Impressionist landscape, opting for bolder shapes and colors and resulting in a flat, bright appearance. They also pushed contrast in both color and shape.

Japanese Embroidered TapestriesMoving out of the oppression of the past three centuries, the influx of outside influences and greater freedom had Japanese artists exploring new styles and ideas in the last half of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th. This is the time where manga — Japanese comics — first appeared. They were a response to the popularity of French and British comic strips and political cartoons. This is the time that we can first see Japanese paintings which are reminiscent of the classical European style, as artistic instruction from Italy in particular was in high demand. Also popular were elaborate embroidered tapestries which pushed the boundaries of perspective and showed beautiful, sprawling landscapes.


Today, Japan is known for its distinctive culture of blending art with decoration and usable items, as well as its prowess in the field of graphic design and digital artworks in video games and advertising. Anime — Japanese cartoons first influenced by American cartoons after World War I — is known and enjoyed by people all over the world.

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Let us know in a comment below if you read all three parts of this series and if you’d like to see more longer explorations of art history in the future! You can stay up to date with our blog on our Facebook, Twitter, and/or Pinterest. We publish a new blog about animals, fossils, or art every Tuesday and Friday, so until next time, thank you for reading and goodbye!

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